Canadian Children's Rights Council - Conseil canadien des droits des enfants
www.CanadianCRC.com

Canadian Children's Rights Council - Conseil canadien des droits des enfants

Child Rights - Virtual Library, Resource Centre, Archives and Advocacy
hands
International Child Abduction - Canada

INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION: ISSUES FOR REFORM

The Canadian Parliament - Committee of the House of Commons

Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade

First Report of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development

Bill Graham, M.P.
Chair of the Committee

Colleen Beaumier, M.P.
Chair of the Sub-Committee

April 1998


Table of Contents

LIST OF MEMBERS  Link opens in a new window

LIST OF SUB-COMMITTEE MEMBERS  Link opens in a new window

HONORIFIC  Link opens in a new window

CHAIR'S FOREWORD  Link opens in a new window

LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS

INTRODUCTION  Link opens in a new window

EXTENT AND PROFILE OF INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS  Link opens in a new window
THE HAGUE CONVENTION ON THE CIVIL ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION  Link opens in a new window
          A. Description of the Convention  Link opens in a new window
          B. Shortcomings of the Convention  Link opens in a new window
          C. Broader Adoption of the Convention  Link opens in a new window
INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTIONS TO NON-HAGUE COUNTRIES  Link opens in a new window
CANADIAN RESPONSES TO CHILD ABDUCTION: CURRENT AND PROPOSED  Link opens in a new window
          A. Current Responses  Link opens in a new window
                    1. Canada's Missing Children's Registry  Link opens in a new window
                    2. Police Intervention
                    3. Extradition  Link opens in a new window
                    4. Passport Control  Link opens in a new window
                    5. Custody Orders  Link opens in a new window
           B. Proposed Responses  Link opens in a new window
                    1. Border Controls  Link opens in a new window
                    2. Restriction of International Travel  Link opens in a new window
                    3. Financial Assistance  Link opens in a new window
                    4. Sharing of Information and Expertise  Link opens in a new window

 REQUEST FOR GOVERNMENT RESPONSE  Link opens in a new window

 Appendixes

A - List of Witnesses  Link opens in a new window
B - List of Briefs  Link opens in a new window

 MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS  Link opens in a new window

CHAIR'S FORWARD

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is mandated to review a multitude of issues, including trade, aid, treaties, peace, international security, human rights and evolving foreign crises. In an effort to further refine the focus of the Committee, two sub-committees, the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development and the Sub-Committee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment, were formed in 1997.

Shortly after its inception, the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development conducted hearings on the disturbing issue of international child abduction. The Sub-Committee endeavoured to see as many witnesses as possible, while at the same time ensuring that a report was prepared in a timely fashion. We structured the hearings to include parents, attorneys, private search firms, non-governmental organizations, law officers and departmental officials.

Sadly, in spite of the Hague Convention, there are still insurmountable obstacles for parents seeking the return, from countries outside of Canada, of their abducted children. Whether the abductions are to countries which are signatories of the Hague Convention or not, the plight of the victimized parent is one of extreme frustration and all too often ends in despair.

In addition to the numerous verbal presentations, the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and International Development was provided with several written submissions, which were very helpful in the compilation of this report. The compelling personal and written accounts of victims clearly demonstrate the need for government action. While recognizing that there is no immediate solution to the elimination of child abductions, we, as Members of Parliament, have undertaken to recommend measures which will help to minimize the successful abduction of a child to another country.

The Sub-Committee wishes to thank everyone who took the time and the effort to participate in these worthwhile sessions.

On behalf of all Sub-Committee Members, I would like to offer special thanks to Researchers Patricia B??gin, James Lee and Gerald Schmitz and to Clerk Janice Hilchie and the Sub-Committee staff Caroline Martin and Diane Lefebvre for their diligence and dedication.


LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS

RECOMMENDATION 1

The Sub-Committee recommends that officials of the Missing Children's Registry, the federal central authority, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the provincial and territorial central authorities, work with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and other individuals and organizations with recognized expertise in child abduction, family law and family violence to develop consistent and informed data from the Missing Children's Registry's national database on domestic and international parental abductions. The Sub-Committee further recommends that the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics prepare an annual report on the subject.

RECOMMENDATION 2

The Sub-Committee recommends that Government of Canada officials, in consultation with the provinces and territories, raise and examine delays in proceedings, quality of legal representation and compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention at the next meeting of the Special Commission to review the operation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

RECOMMENDATION 3

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada ensure that the issue of international child abductions and the need to widen the network of countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention are on the official agenda of bilateral and multilateral meetings attended by non-Hague states.

RECOMMENDATION 4

The Sub-Committee recommends that Canada continue to negotiate bilateral treaties with countries that have not become signatories to the Hague Convention. Wherever possible, such treaties should contain provisions imposing legal obligations, similar to those in the Hague Convention, on the signatory countries.

RECOMMENDATION 5

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Solicitor General, in consultation with the RCMP, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), provincial and territorial ministers responsible for law enforcement and accredited search agencies, establish a working group to review police training, policies and procedures concerning the investigation of missing children with a view to improving current police responses to reports of child abduction. As part of the overall review, the Sub-Committee further recommends that the federal, provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies take the reforms proposed by this Report fully into account in developing police training curricula and promoting a stronger awareness among officers and recruits of their role in preventing international child abductions.

RECOMMENDATION 6

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Solicitor General, in consultation with the RCMP, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) and provincial and territorial ministers responsible for law enforcement, establish a working group to develop a mandatory policy directing police officers to report suspected child abductions to the Missing Children's Registry and to enter missing children reports on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).

RECOMMENDATION 7

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Policy Committee consult with those with experience with parental child abduction cases with a view to amending section 283 of the Criminal Code to provide the courts with clearer guidance as to the criminal nature of parental abductions in the absence of a custody order.

RECOMMENDATION 8

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada enter into discussions with countries with which it has negotiated an extradition treaty in order to encourage them to recognize that parental child abduction is a criminal offence whose commission should be subject to an extradition order.

RECOMMENDATION 9

The Sub-Committee recommends that officials of the Passport Office, in consultation with those who have experience with international parental abduction cases, including accredited search agencies and family law lawyers, review existing measures for processing passport applications for children and examine options with a view to strengthening such procedures.

RECOMMENDATION 10

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Policy Committee, in consultation with the Barreau du Qu??bec and the Canadian Bar Association, examine additional measures that family courts could undertake in custody and divorce proceedings in order to prevent international child abductions, such as restricting travel where appropriate and/or requiring parties to surrender all passports to the court while a child is in their care.

RECOMMENDATION 11

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada negotiate bilateral agreements with other foreign jurisdictions with a view to promoting inter-country training related to "best practices" followed at border crossings to identify and respond to international child abductions.

RECOMMENDATION 12

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Minister of Transport, in consultation with the provinces and territories, officials from "Our Missing Children" Program and the airline industry, review the feasibility of creating a process for verifying documentary proof that both parents have agreed to international travel of children under 16 years of age before airline tickets are issued. We further recommend that the consultation lead to the development of a specialized program for training security and airline staff to identify and respond to possible child abductions.

RECOMMENDATION 13

The Sub-Committee recommends that the federal Minister of Justice undertake discussions with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice to establish a cost-shared fund for expenses related to travel and legal services to assist parents in need whose children have been parentally abducted from Canada and taken across international borders.

RECOMMENDATION 14

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, establish an annual conference to bring together key players in international parental abductions from across the country to share information and expertise, educate and search for solutions to international child abductions. Players would include, but not be limited to the "Our Missing Children" Program, law enforcement, family court judges, the family law sections of the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Qu??bec, non-governmental search agencies, and government officials responsible for the implementation of the Hague Convention.


INTRODUCTION

Growth in immigration, international tourism and global business travel has provided the context for relationships and marriages between people of different nationalities and cultures. These trends have developed alongside other economic and social phenomena such as an expanding globalized economy, rising divorce rates and increasing reported incidence of domestic violence. All have contributed to the problem of international parental abductions of children.

According to research findings and witnesses who appeared before this Sub-Committee, when marriages and co-parenting relationships break down, children who are denied access to both parents suffer significant emotional stress and psychological damage. Family, friends, routines and familiar places and language are well established as being fundamental to a child's sense of safety and security. A child abducted by a parent and taken to a foreign country faces a culture, language and living arrangements that differ significantly from what he or she has been accustomed to; the effects of such social dislocation on the child can be profound. Moreover, the psychological impact of displacement and separation from the absent parent is often manifested in expressions of anger, fear, despair, loss and confusion. This is particularly true where the child is older (i.e. of school age), abducted for a long period of time, abused, or being frequently moved to different locations by the abducting parent to avoid detection.1 In light of these effects, many believe that parental child abduction is a violation of children's rights and a form of child abuse.

Agnes Casselman, Executive Director of International Social Service Canada, a non-profit organization providing inter-country social work liaison services to children and families in difficulty, agrees:

International child abduction is the most serious violation of a child's rights. Children are the chief victims of child abduction. However, in the end, everyone loses. We need to continue to work diligently to find solutions at the national and international levels to ensure the basic rights of children are protected and preserved. (3 December 1997, p. 9)

A parent whose child has been abducted by the other parent is also a victim. The traumatic consequences for searching parents, cogently and passionately articulated by those who testified before us, include a deep sense of loss, frustration and intense anxiety about their child's physical safety and emotional well-being (10 December 1997). Research studies have confirmed these effects and related problems, such as disturbed sleep, despair, fear, loneliness, depression, and helplessness.2 As Amy Lewis, a parent whose child was abducted by his father to the United States, stated in her written submission, "for a parent and child who are separated, even a day can seem an eternity". Moreover, in addition to the emotional fallout from the abduction, the searching parent often endures significant financial hardship, as will be discussed later in this Report.

The Sub-Committee has explored the many dimensions of international child abduction. Over a period of four months, from November 1997 to February 1998, it heard and received written submissions from parent victims, non-governmental search agencies, legal practitioners, government officials, and law enforcement authorities. This Report highlights the seriousness of the issue and some problems with current responses to it. While we recognize that the best systems will never prevent all abductions from occurring, we recommend measures to prevent some disaffected parents from abducting their children across international borders and, in cases where a parent has succeeded in doing so, strategies to facilitate the repatriation of the abducted child to his or her country of habitual residence.

The Members of this Sub-Committee hope, in light of our findings and recommendations, that the government will elevate the issue of international child abduction to a more prominent place on the national and international policy agenda and that public, professional and government support will be mobilized for national, bilateral and multilateral reforms to promote and protect the best interests of children.

EXTENT AND PROFILE OF INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS

Currently, the scope and nature of parental abduction cases in this country are unknown. Precise figures on the number of Canadian children who have been abducted by a parent and taken across national borders and case analyses producing profiles of abduction situations and comparisons between international and domestic abductions, as we discovered, are not available.

In its 1996 annual report on Canada's missing children, the RCMP Missing Children's Registry reported a total of 409 missing children who were the victims of a parental abduction.3 This number reflects cases reported to the police that were entered into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system as involving missing children. The number of parentally abducted children reported by the Registry from 1992 to 1996 is fairly constant; in other words, there have been no significant increases or decreases in the incidence of such reports over the past five years. Unfortunately, the Registry does not break down the cases of parental abduction into international and domestic categories. Moreover, it does not include parental abductions that were not reported to police. We learned that an unknown number of searching parents hire a lawyer and use the civil courts to attempt to bring their children home. Such cases would not show up in the Missing Children's Registry.

Another source of data is through the database of the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR) which includes crimes reported to law enforcement agencies across Canada. In 1996, a total of 602 attempted and completed parental abduction offences were reported to police (each offence or incident is equal to one victim). Of the 602 children, 374 were taken in contravention of a custody order and 228 were taken where there was no custody order in effect.4 These data do not distinguish between international and domestic parental abductions of children.

The central authorities under the Hague Convention (discussed below) are yet another source of data on child abductions. Between 1993 and 1996, central authorities in Canada were involved in 145 cases seeking the return of 209 children from Canada (incoming cases) and 173 cases seeking the return of 232 children to Canada (outgoing cases).5 These data must be treated with caution, we were told by Sandra Zed Finless, of the Department of Justice, because the provincial and territorial central authorities, which collect data on the number of requests they deal with under the Hague Convention, have different systems for collecting statistics. And, as is described below, a parent can file an application under the Convention in the country from which or to which the child has been taken. Central authorities in Canada only report cases filed with their offices.

Susan Armstrong suggested that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Development should prepare an annual report detailing, by year and province, the incidence of international child abductions from Canada, the countries to which Canadian children have been abducted (where known), and the length of time the children have been missing (3 December 1997, p. 11). We would add to this wish list, a detailed analysis of cases.

For example, our examination of this issue largely focused on measures to prevent the cross-border abduction of children by parents. According to what we heard, such unilateral action violates the right of a child to have contact with both parents and the right of a parent to participate in his or her child's upbringing. Yet, we are aware that there may be cases in which the child's safety has motivated the abducting parent. Is there a relationship between child abduction and child protection? Is child abduction justified if it is motivated by a parent's desire to protect the child from abuse or neglect by the other parent? To answer these and other related research questions on the parameters of international child abduction, we need detailed information about abductors and the circumstances surrounding abduction events in this country. An in-depth analysis of the case files in the Missing Children's Registry would contribute significantly toward broader understanding of this tragic situation. Dr. Marlene Dalley, a Canadian expert on missing children and parental abductions, underscored the weak and inconsistent nature of data on parental abduction in this country and the need for in-depth analysis of the files maintained by the Missing Children's Registry.

Providing some consistent facts on the extent and nature of international child abductions, we believe, would enhance societal recognition and understanding of the problem and assist policy makers and investigators.

RECOMMENDATION 1

The Sub-Committee recommends that officials of the Missing Children's Registry, the federal central authority, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the provincial and territorial central authorities, work with the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and other individuals and organizations with recognized expertise in child abduction, family law and family violence to develop consistent and informed data from the Missing Children's Registry's national database on domestic and international parental abductions. The Sub-Committee further recommends that the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics prepare an annual report on the subject.

THE HAGUE CONVENTION ON THE CIVIL ASPECTS OF INTERNATIONAL
CHILD ABDUCTION

A. Description of the Convention

Twenty years ago, in response to an increase in the number of parentally abducted children taken across borders, Canada initiated negotiations with some 30 other countries to search for an international remedy. This initiative led to the drafting of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, by the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The Hague Convention, the only multilateral instrument providing assistance in the cross-border abduction of children, came into force on 1 December 1983.

In the words of Denis Kratchanov of the Department of Justice, the Convention is "based on the principle that the best interests of the children are met by ensuring their prompt return to the state of "habitual residence"" (20 November 1997, p. 2). To that end, each participating signatory to the Convention agrees to respect the rights of custody under the law of other state parties and to return an abducted child to legal custody in his or her pre-abduction country of residence. Establishing the validity of competing claims to custody is, by design, outside of the scope of the Convention. In other words, the merits of custody issues are matters for adjudication in the country from which the child was wrongfully removed. "Wrongful removal", i.e. removal without the consent of the other parent, of a child below the age of 16, typically by a non-custodial or joint-custodial parent with a background or upbringing in another country, is the precipitating incident. Among the Convention's objectives are to secure the swift return of children unilaterally taken to or from a foreign country, to promote cooperation among nations and among the competent authorities in their respective states, and to deter child abductions.

In Canada, since the provinces and territories have jurisdiction over child custody matters, provincial Attorneys General and/or Ministers of Justice and Territorial Departments of Justice are the designated "central authorities" responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Convention. They act as points of contact between "contracting states" (i.e. parties to the Convention) and assist parents wishing to invoke the Hague Convention's provisions. A parent whose child has been abducted can file an application for return with either the central authority of the home country or that of the country where the child is located. Upon application, a central authority is mandated to take all appropriate measures to protect the interests of the custodial parent, discover the whereabouts of the wrongfully removed child, prevent harm to the child and secure his or her voluntary return. If required, the authority also initiates judicial or administrative proceedings to obtain the child's return. The Hague Convention allows four exceptions to its return requirements, including an exception if "there is grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation" (Article 13(b)).6

Central authorities in each participating state are involved in cases seeking the return of children abducted from their jurisdiction ("incoming cases") and the return of children abducted to their jurisdiction ("outgoing cases"). The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) is the designated federal central authority in Canada. It provides assistance to the provinces and territories and central authorities in other contracting states, as requested, and information and referrals to the public.

As of 9 October 1997, only 26 countries had ratified, accepted or approved the Hague Convention and 21 had acceded to it. As will be discussed later in this Report, none of the countries governed by Islamic law has as yet joined the Convention. The limited geographic reach of the Convention clearly compromises its international effectiveness.

Indeed, the Secretary General of International Social Service has referred to the Hague Convention as "a generous convention" that has produced "modest results".7 The latter conclusion is fuelled by statistics provided by central authorities on the occasion of the 1997 Special Commission to review the operation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; these show that "only about half of all international child abduction cases have been resolved".8 When compared with statistics on the outcome of child abduction cases involving non-Hague countries, however, these statistics suggest that the Convention is working, albeit imperfectly. For example, statistics on the outcomes of Hague and non-Hague cases in the United States show favourable resolution rates of 43% for incoming Hague cases and 40% for outgoing-Hague cases, compared with favourable rates of 20 to 25% for non-Hague cases.9

Our examination of child abductions across international borders did not include an in-depth review of the operation and effectiveness of the Hague Convention. However, witnesses highlighted certain of its shortcomings, discussed below, which we believe merit attention by Canada and other signatories to the Hague Convention.

B. Shortcomings of the Convention
(Delay in Proceedings, Quality of Representation and Compliance with the Hague Convention's Provisions)

According to Heather Ritchie, a Canadian family lawyer who represents parents whose children have been abducted to both Hague and non-Hague countries, the administrative steps taken in some Hague countries can be "agonizingly slow" and cause undue delay. Time is of the essence, she told the Sub-Committee, because "[t]he best interests of a child may well be determined by where the child is and for how long, no matter what brought the child to that place" (10 December 1997, p. 2). Expediting the procedures of the Convention for the return of children was raised at the Second Meeting of the Special Commission to review the operation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, in 1993. It was concluded that:

Delay in legal proceedings is a major cause of difficulties in the operation of the Convention. All possible efforts should be made to expedite such proceedings. Courts in a number of countries normally decide on requests for return of a child on the basis only of the application and any documents or statements in writing submitted by the parties, without taking oral testimony or requiring the presence of the parties in person. This can serve to expedite the disposition of the case. The decision to return the child is not a decision the merits of custody.10

In his review of the Convention's successes and failures, Adair Dyer, of the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, found that states had varying approaches to the timing of proceedings. Some signatory countries maintain short and tight deadlines for hearings and appeals, thereby facilitating the quick return of children. Other states, however, have proceedings that lack urgency and tight deadlines. Despite the unevenness, Mr. Dyer found that "continuing efforts are being made to reduce the length of proceedings and therefore meet the Convention's objectives of rapid return of children."11

The Convention has also come under criticism for failing to provide for high quality and vigorous legal representation in Hague countries. Many central authorities, we were told, lack sufficient human and financial resources. This situation directly affects the quality of legal services and the speed and effectiveness of the proceedings. Heather Ritchie stated:

I have to say that one of the big difficulties with using the Hague application is the limited quality of representation that the person will receive in the other country. It's a little difficult to ask a national in the other country who's on the equivalent of a legal aid retainer - just slightly above the poverty line in Canada - to actually make a strong representation with respect to the return of what may be perceived as a national child back to Canada. (10 December 1997, p. 2-3)

The experience of Nancy White, a Canadian woman whose son was abducted on a family holiday in Greece by her then husband, a Greek national, is illustrative: "???[I] had this very unmotivated Hague-appointed lawyer, who didn't speak a word of English. He didn't really care what happened to me. So???we found two more lawyers." In her written submission to the Sub-Committee, Ms. White indicated that her parents had spent more than $100,000 (including $15,000 in translation fees alone) over a five-month period to get her and her son back to Canada from Greece, a Hague country. Moreover, after the Hague process had been initiated, her former husband filed for custody and the court set a hearing date. This action was is in direct violation of Hague rules, which, as Heather Ritchie explained, prohibit the commencement of separate proceedings once an application under the Convention has been initiated. In the words of Nancy White, "no one seemed to know the rules" (10 December 1997, p, 8). Based on her experience, Nancy White recommended, among other things, that:

  • If a lawyer from a central authority is unable or unwilling to pursue a case vigorously, financial assistance should be provided in Canada for overseas legal representation to assist Canadians in repatriating their children;
  • The Application for Return and supporting documentation sent by a provincial central authority in Canada to the central authority in the country where the child is wrongfully retained should be translated into the language of the receiving country before being transmitted, in order to prevent undue delay;
  • The Hague country in which the child is wrongfully retained should ensure the safe custody of the child until the courts have resolved the Application for Return;
  • Provincial central authorities should be aware of or have ready access to information about the implementing legislation and the operation of the courts and central authorities in the other Hague countries. In addition, they should provide practical advice to the parent who has initiated the Application for Return (e.g. hiring a lawyer in the foreign country) and ensure that information about the status of the Application for Return is forthcoming;
  • The courts responsible for hearing an Application for Return in all Hague countries should have access to copies of the Hague Convention in the official language of that country. (8 December 1997, p. 2-3)

Susan Armstrong, Executive Director of the Missing Children's Network Canada, a Quebec-based non-profit search agency, was critical of some signatory countries' lack of action, awareness and compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention. As a result of non-compliance, we were informed, Canadian children in these countries are being held hostage by the abducting parent. She added:

For the signatory countries that do not respect the laws governing the civil aspects of international child abductions under the Hague Convention, we as representatives of these children are left confused as to the reasoning and motives behind such non-conformity. Therefore, the question comes to mind as to why these countries sign on. Is it for the best interests of the child or simply for the political image it gives them in the eyes of the world? (3 December 1997, p. 11)

In the experience of Dr. Marlene Dalley, some Hague countries have effective mechanisms in place for processing applications whereas others have procedures that are "shaky" and "sometimes non-existent." In her written brief to the Sub-Committee, Dr. Dalley proposed that Canada should assist these latter countries to develop or improve their procedures.

RECOMMENDATION 2

The Sub-Committee recommends that Government of Canada officials, in consultation with the provinces and territories, raise and examine delays in proceedings, quality of legal representation and compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention at the next meeting of the Special Commission to review the operation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

C. Broader Adoption of the Convention

Many witnesses promoted widening the network of Hague signatory countries for, as will be discussed, attempts at repatriating an abducted child from a country that has not signed the Hague Convention, are often fraught with insurmountable obstacles.

Barbara Snider of the Missing Children Society of Canada, a non-profit organization involved in the search for missing and abducted children, encourages the Government of Canada to discuss the Hague Convention with non-participating countries at every opportunity and encourages them to sign on to it (3 December 1997, p. 3). Over half of the cases of the Missing Children Society of Canada are classified as parental abduction. Moreover, and, according to Ms. Snider, "about 90% of the parental abductions registered with the Society are believed to have left Canada and fled to another country" (3 December 1997, p. 1).

Brian Grant, of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, stated in his brief, "[t]he Hague Convention is a wonderful tool but it will only become truly useful when a majority of countries in the world have pledged to abide by it".

During his appearance before us, London, Ontario Police Chief Julian Fantino (who appeared before us in his capacity as a representative of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police) called for more international collaboration to promote and protect the welfare of children. He said:

There must be an increasing international awareness that the world is effectively a much smaller place now than it has ever been in the past, and that cooperation amongst nations will be essential in securing the best interests of children everywhere. (4 February 1998, p. 8)

We learned from Denis Kratchanov of the Department of Justice, that Canada does informally promote the Hague Convention at multilateral meetings (20 November 1997,
p. 16). Many of the witnesses told us that the government should ensure that international child abductions and the Hague Convention are on the official agenda at all international forums attended by non-signatory states. The members of the Sub-Committee agree.

RECOMMENDATION 3

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada ensure that the issue of international child abductions and the need to widen the network of countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention are on the official agenda of bilateral and multilateral meetings attended by non-Hague states.

INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTIONS TO NON-HAGUE COUNTRIES

How an international child abduction case is handled hinges, in large part, on whether the country is a signatory to the Hague Convention. Law and social norms for marriage, divorce, custody and access are not homogenous throughout the world and play a significant role in a country's decision to ratify the Convention. When a child is abducted from Canada to a non-signatory state, the searching parent does not have recourse to the remedies of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Generally, the case must be pursued in the foreign country's courts with assistance from officials with the Canadian consul in that country. In child abduction cases, overseas Canadian consul offices are, in the words of Gar Pardy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Consular Operations, "the office of last resort". The reason is that, by the time the Consul office is contacted, the abducting parent has succeeded in taking the child across international borders (20 November 1997, p. 6). Cases involving children taken to a non-Hague country, especially countries governed by principles of Muslim law, are particularly difficult to resolve. Religious law and customs governing parental rights, family influence, language barriers and enormous personal expenses are only some of the obstacles confronting the searching parent. One particular barrier is the "traditional Islamic assignment to the father of decisional power over the child's place of residence."12

Some nations, particularly those of Islamic influence, do not conceive of the family as constituted by two equal parents with equal rights of access to, or influence over, their children. These countries accept a theological absolute of the male as unchallenged monarch over the family. Consequently, the "best interests of the child" are defined synonymously with the decisions of the father, and it is difficult to conceive of an Islamic court ordering a father to return a child when a mother objects, for example, to a move to an Islamic country.13

When the abducting parent is a Muslim woman, it appears that religious doctrine assigns to her father, the child's maternal grandfather, the power to determine that the best interests of the child are served by retaining the child in the country from where the abducting parent originated. Ron Reddy has experienced first-hand the considerable obstacles to repatriating a child from a non-Hague Muslim country. Without his knowledge or consent, his infant daughter, a Canadian citizen, was abducted to the Kingdom of Jordan by her Muslim mother. His estranged wife was aided by her father, who yields considerable influence in Jordan; various authorities in Jordan have told Mr. Reddy that only an intervention by the King of Jordan himself would resolve his case. The reasons he was given are as follows:

They told me that I would never make any significant progress as a foreigner in the Jordanian court system. The system was based upon a feudalistic Bedouin tribal form of justice that was driven by family influence. I was told that judges and police would be reluctant to issue orders against large influential families. I was told under Islamic law only the mother could get custody of the children, especially a girl until the age of puberty. Also, I was told that the father would only be given supervised access for one hour per week in the interim. Of course, as a foreigner you probably wouldn't get any of those rights. (10 December 1997, p. 14)

Mr. Reddy recommended, among other things, that bilateral treaties be negotiated with non-Hague countries, especially those governed by Islamic law. Such treaties should be divided into access and visitation agreements and repatriation agreements. The access treaty would allow the left-behind parent unsupervised or supervised contact with the child, depending on the circumstances, on a periodic basis with medical assessments of the child to be arranged by International Social Services and non-compliance to be subject to criminal sanctions and fines. The bilateral repatriation accord would include provisions similar to those in the Hague Convention and be negotiated on a country-by-country basis.

We learned that bilateral child abduction treaties between Canada and Islamic nations are already being negotiated. As Ron Reddy pointed out, many countries in the Middle East do not feel they can sign the Hague Convention because of their domestic laws, customs and religion. Accordingly, Canada has recently concluded a bilateral treaty with Egypt, where we currently have about 10 to 15 child abduction cases, and is in the process of negotiating a similar type of agreement with Lebanon. Unlike the Hague Convention, which imposes legal obligations on signatory countries, the agreement between Canada and Egypt does not include any enforcement mechanisms. Rather, it sets up a binational committee with a mandate to discuss international child abduction cases and, when possible, resolve them. As such, Ron Reddy finds it wanting:

I'm pushing for an accord whereby you have clear rights to access your child. It should do more than just say "Okay, you get together and let's see if you can work it out". A forum for dialogue is important, but you must have clear steps that say "Okay, you are the father, you are the mother, you both have access to this child". That should be ratified between two governments. (10 December 1997, p. 23)

The Sub-Committee Members agree with the thrust of Mr. Reddy's proposal. We encourage the Government of Canada to negotiate bilateral agreements with legally enforceable mechanisms for access rights and the return of a child with countries that cannot and will not become state parties to the multilateral Hague Convention.

RECOMMENDATION 4

The Sub-Committee recommends that Canada continue to negotiate bilateral treaties with countries that have not become signatories to the Hague Convention. Wherever possible, such treaties should contain provisions imposing legal obligations, similar to those in the Hague Convention, on the signatory countries.

CANADIAN RESPONSES TO CHILD ABDUCTION: CURRENT AND PROPOSED

A. Current Responses

1. Canada's Missing Children's Registry

To assist police in their investigation of missing children cases, in 1988 the government established the Missing Children's Registry, an internationally recognized law enforcement program devoted to the search for and recovery of children. It is a component of the Canadian government's "Our Missing Children" Program made up of four government departments: the RCMP; Revenue Canada; Citizenship and Immigration; and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. In his brief, RCMP Sergeant John Oliver described some of the functions of this program:

  • Intercepting and recovering missing and abducted children crossing international borders;
  • Providing the issuance of border lookouts (if it is suspected that a child or child abductor is crossing international borders, lookouts will be issued with that country);
  • Displaying posters of missing children at all border points in Canada;
  • Training law enforcement agencies and other agencies such as airline personnel in developing techniques in the detection of child abductors or abducted children. (Brief submitted November 1997, p.7-8)

The Missing Children's Registry works closely with national and international law enforcement authorities, federal government departments and authorized non-profit search agencies, such as Child Find Canada, Missing Children Society of Canada and the Missing Children's Network. In his submission to the Sub-Committee, Sergeant Oliver also described the broad mandate of the Missing Children's Registry. It includes, among others:

  • To assist all Canadian police forces in the investigation of missing children cases, if such assistance is requested;
  • To monitor the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) (the central computer system shared by all police agencies in Canada) missing persons file to provide follow-up information or action on missing children investigations, if such information or action is requested;
  • To prepare statistical bulletins, annual reports and articles on missing children;
  • To co-ordinate and exchange information on prevention programs within the Canadian police community and groups searching for missing children;
  • To promote networking, liaison and collaborative efforts with police forces in other countries, especially those belonging to the INTERPOL network and those that are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction;
  • To co-operate with and assist accredited agencies involved in the search and recovery of missing children;
  • To co-ordinate the travel/reunification program designed to offer financial assistance to parents for the return of children abducted by a parent to Canada;
  • To participate in the Custom's Canada Project Return and International Project Return programs that post border alerts. (26 November 1997, p. 1-4)

According to Sergeant Oliver, the Missing Children's Registry receives requests for assistance mainly with international parental abductions. As a result, Registry staff have developed considerable expertise in dealing with such cases over the years. Sergeant Oliver told us that there has been an increase in requests for assistance to the Registry from 9 a month in 1989, to 65 a month in 1997. This increase reflects, in his view, greater use of Registry services by police and search agencies rather than an increase in the number of missing children. All police agencies across Canada have been made aware of the Registry's existence and mandate and, "the Registry will co-ordinate the investigation for them in other jurisdictions, in or out of Canada, at the request of any Canadian police agency" (26 December 1997, p. 2).

2. Police Intervention

Parents who abduct their children are in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada, under sections 282 and 283 of which the police can lay charges against a parent who abducts his or her own child in contravention of a custody order (s. 282) or abducts where no custody order exists (s. 283).

Most would expect that police would respond immediately to a report of alleged child abduction. Testimony from witnesses before the Sub-Committee, however, and findings from research studies underscore that police are generally reluctant to become involved with parental abductions, despite the fact that, as Kiedrowski, et al noted in their review of the research literature, "the delay of a few hours could allow the child to be taken out of the country. "14

Research supported by oral testimony and written submissions of left-behind parents has shown that police generally regard threatened and actual parental abduction as a "domestic problem" rather than criminal activity; by extension, child abduction perpetrated by a stranger is treated as a more serious crime.15

When Angelena Mejed-Cosovic's estranged husband abducted their seven-year-old son from Toronto last April, the police told her they had to wait 24 hours before investigating her report. Her son, whom she has not seen since his abduction, is somewhere in the former Yugoslavia with his father (10 December 1997, p. 10). It was not until March 1997, three weeks after Ron Reddy first reported his one-year-old daughter's abduction from British Columbia to the Kingdom of Jordan by his estranged wife, that the RCMP took a statement from him and started an investigation into his case (10 December 1997, p. 13).

In her written submission, Amy Lewis told us of the circumstances leading up to the abduction of her son by her ex-husband. In two separate reports, the West Vancouver police were informed that Ms. Lewis's ex-husband had threatened to abduct his five-year-old son to the United States; the police took the complaint but did not undertake any follow-up. In addition, Ms. Lewis's lawyer faxed letters on two separate occasions to U.S. Immigration at the British Columbia-Washington State border, advising of the threatened abduction and providing relevant descriptive information. On 16 February 1996, the boy and his father crossed the U.S. border in the vehicle described to U.S. Immigration one day earlier. Ms. Lewis was told by the police constable who took the abduction report from her, "U.S. Immigration officers are unlikely to act on information not coming from a law enforcement agency." This information is confirmed in the 1997 handbook for Canadian police, customs and immigration officers produced by the RCMP Missing Children's Registry which states: "Only a law enforcement agency or a recognized agency can issue a request for a border lookout."16 The handbook advises customs and immigration officers to refer requests made by a searching parent, lawyers or other individuals to the relevant law enforcement agency. Yet in this case, based on the facts we have before us, it appears that had the police treated the matter seriously and notified the border authorities,17 Ms. Lewis's son might not have been successfully abducted.

Not surprisingly, in the opinion of some left-behind parents, police fail to give appropriate weight to the criminal nature of parental abductions. In fact, a 1993 study of 16 cases of parental child abduction in Ontario found:

???that 56 percent of the searching parents were dissatisfied with the response of the police; 38 percent were satisfied. ...[I]nterviews with the parents, revealed that the dissatisfaction was mainly due to the nonchalant manner in which the police responded to the complaint. Not only were police slow in responding to the call and even slower in writing down the information and filling out many forms, they frequently told the parents that there was nothing that the police could do and suggested that a lawyer be contacted.18

We learned from Susan Armstrong, of the Missing Children's Network, of a comprehensive training workshop on international child abduction for police investigators that the search agency developed. Over 80% of the Network's caseload involves parental abductions, most of which are classified as international abductions. According to Ms. Armstrong, training is changing the way in which police in Quebec respond to reports of parental abductions.

I can speak on behalf of the police forces in Quebec, from the RCMP down to the Montreal Urban Community Police, when I say the change has been astronomical in how many investigators know exactly what to do and how to help these parents immediately. (3 December 1997, p. 9)

In our view, the maximum penalty of ten years' imprisonment for child abduction by a parent or guardian, as set out in the Criminal Code, reflects the seriousness that legislators attach to such conduct and the substantial harm it may cause to individuals and society. Since enforcement of the Criminal Code is entrusted to the police; we believe that it is incumbent on them to respond to reports of its violation in a timely manner.

RECOMMENDATION 5

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Solicitor General, in consultation with the RCMP, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), provincial and territorial ministers responsible for law enforcement and accredited search agencies, establish a working group to review police training, policies and procedures concerning the investigation of missing children with a view to improving current police responses to reports of child abduction. As part of the overall review, the Sub-Committee further recommends that the federal, provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies take the reforms proposed by this Report fully into account in developing police training curricula and promoting a stronger awareness among officers and recruits of their role in preventing international child abductions.

Under the direction of their Chief Julian Fantino, the London Police Force conducted an informal survey of the operational policies on parental abductions of some of the major police forces across Canada. The survey findings, as reported in Chief Fantino's brief, show that "???police forces do not uniformly encode a parental abduction policy in their manuals." Research conducted in 1993 for Solicitor General Canada confirms this finding. The study reported that only a limited number of Canadian police forces have formal, comprehensive operational policies dealing with missing children.19 Thus, individual departmental policy determines whether police promptly initiate an investigation of a parental abduction report and call upon the resources and expertise of the Missing Children's Registry.

Currently, as Sergeant John Oliver informed us, the decision on whether to enter parental abduction cases on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) system is left to individual police force policy, while the reporting of suspected child abduction cases to the Missing Children's Registry by police agencies is voluntary. Yet, the various components of the Registry dedicated to the prevention, search and recovery of abducted children can only be mobilized if law enforcement authorities ensure that cases of missing children are reported to it and entered on the CPIC. Otherwise, border alerts cannot be issued to detect an abductor and an abducted child before they leave Canada. In light of this, Sergeant John Oliver proposed that the reporting of parental abduction cases to the Missing Children's Registry and on CPIC be made mandatory.

RECOMMENDATION 6

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Solicitor General, in consultation with the RCMP, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) and provincial and territorial ministers responsible for law enforcement, establish a working group to develop a mandatory policy directing police officers to report suspected child abductions to the Missing Children's Registry and to enter missing children reports on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC).

The qualified emphasis placed on investigating, searching for and recovering children abducted by parents is due, in part, to the fact that the police require the consent of the Attorney General before they can proceed with a criminal charge under section 283 of the Criminal Code (i.e. abduction without a custody order in place). Chief Julian Fantino told us that when a child is abducted by a parent without a custody order in place, and where there is no evidence that the child is in danger, the police "are in a tenuous position." In his experience, without a court order defining the custody and access rights of both parties it is often difficult to prove abduction.

In her submission, Heather Ritchie said that lawyers like herself who practise family law find section 283 of the Criminal Code too general and ambiguous and permitting of widely divergent interpretations. In her view, judges in Canadian and foreign courts require clearer guidance as to the criminal nature of such abductions. Accordingly, she proposed that the section 283 of the Criminal Code be amended so "that if one parent removes the child from the jurisdiction it will be seen as abduction in the absence of any custody order" (10 December 1997, p. 17).

RECOMMENDATION 7

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Federal/Provincial/ Territorial Family Law Policy Committee consult with those with experience with parental child abduction cases with a view to amending section 283 of the Criminal Code to provide the courts with clearer guidance as to the criminal nature of parental abductions in the absence of a custody order.

3. Extradition

If Canada has an extradition treaty with a country to which an abducted child has been taken, Canadian police authorities may make an extradition request. In cases of international abduction, however, extradition is not always an effective remedy, one reason being that not all countries consider parental abduction of a child to be a criminal offence and thus subject to an extradition order. Another limitation of the extradition option is that it applies only to the alleged abductor, not the child. As William Corbett, of the Department of Justice informed the Sub-Committee, extradition "doesn't ensure the return of the children. It's not designed to get the children back; it's designed to bring back the abductors" (20 November 1997, p. 24). A 1996 manual for parents prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (International Child Abductions: A Manual for Parents) highlights other reasons countries seldom extradite their own nationals for parental child abduction.

Few extradition treaties between Canada and other countries include child abduction or custodial interference as an extraditable offences.

Civil law countries, which include most of the countries of Latin America and Europe, will not extradite their own nationals.

Foreign governments, in practice, have generally been unwilling to extradite their nationals for parental child abduction.20

Sergeant Oliver noted that if two countries with an extradition treaty in place both recognize child abduction by a parent to be a criminal offence, extradition of the offender is possible. He recommended that the Government of Canada encourage other national governments to define parental child abduction as a criminal offence and to extradite their nationals who have committed such an offence.

RECOMMENDATION 8

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada enter into discussions with countries with which it has negotiated an extradition treaty in order to encourage them to recognize that parental child abduction is a criminal offence whose commission should be subject to an extradition order.

4. Passport Controls

We heard of cases where the abducting parent had fraudulently but successfully applied for a Canadian passport for the child just prior to the abduction. Witnesses called for a review of current procedures for obtaining a child's passport.

Michael Hutton, of the Passport Office, a component of the "Our Missing Children" Program, described in his brief measures to enhance child protection implemented as a result of a June 1997 meeting between officers of the Passport Office and Consular Affairs. They are:

  • The two organizations ensure that all public counters of the Passport Office are regularly supplied with a sufficient number of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade pamphlet, International Child Abductions: A Manual for Parents;
  • The Passport Office does not apply its service standard of a five-day turnaround to process passport applications when children are involved;
  • Upon receiving a request from a parent who fears the abduction of his or her child, the name of the other parent and the child will be immediately added to the Passport Control List, even though no application is being processed at the time of the request;
  • Parents who are deprived of their custodial and access rights by court orders that are not final will still be informed of the fact that an application for passport services is being made in respect of their children, thereby allowing them to seek whatever judicial remedies they deem fit. (Brief submitted 4 February 1998, p. 5-6)

One recommendation we heard was that both parents be required to present themselves with identification at the Passport Office or that the applying parent be required to present a notarized letter from the absent parent granting permission for a passport to be issued in the child's name. We believe that the Passport Office should consider the feasibility of this proposal.

RECOMMENDATION 9

The Sub-Committee recommends that officials of the Passport Office, in consultation with those who have experience with international parental abduction cases, including accredited search agencies and family law lawyers, review existing measures for processing passport applications for children and examine options with a view to strengthening such procedures.

5. Custody Orders

Ensuring that custody orders explicitly restrict the travel of a child without permission of the court or the other parent is another preventive measure suggested by a number of witnesses. In the view of John Oliver, "if there is some indication that the other parent may abduct, then the custody order should be written as tightly as possible." He added: "I've seen orders that simply say one parent has custody and the other doesn't, and I've seen ones written as tightly as to explain exactly where the child should be on a certain day of the week, who has the child for holidays, and so on" (26 November 1997, p. 15).

On a related topic, witnesses called on family courts to be sensitive to the seriousness of the parental abduction of children across borders and to order parties in a custody dispute to surrender their passports to the court. In cases where a parent has dual nationality, it was suggested that the court hold both passports in escrow. Susan Armstrong of the Missing Children's Network pointed out: "We've experienced this in several cases in which the abducting parent left the country with the foreign passport, and had one for the child or children as well" (3 December 1997, p. 10). The Sub-Committee agrees that the family court judges and lawyers have a greater role to play in preventing international child abductions.

RECOMMENDATION 10

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Family Law Policy Committee, in consultation with the Barreau du Qu??bec and the Canadian Bar Association, examine additional measures that family courts could undertake in custody and divorce proceedings in order to prevent international child abductions, such as restricting travel where appropriate and/or requiring parties to surrender all passports to the court while a child is in their care.

B. Proposed Responses

1. Border Controls

Since there are no exit controls on people leaving Canada by land or air, a number of witnesses spoke of the need to tighten up international borders if an abducting parent is to be prevented from entering a foreign jurisdiction with his or her child.

According to Brian Grant of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a component of the "Our Missing Children" Program, Canadian borders are being tightened up. Customs officers are now trained on how to identify and respond to a child abduction situation.

Of course, the cooperation and willingness of foreign customs and immigration authorities to conduct similar queries is necessary to prevent abductors from taking Canadian children across international borders. We learned that Canada is currently negotiating a bilateral agreement with the American authorities to improve cooperation at the respective borders. Under this agreement, U.S. customs and immigration officers will be trained to conduct checks, using methods followed by our customs and immigration authorities, on adults travelling with a child and attempting to leave Canada and enter the U.S.21 We support this initiative and encourage the Government of Canada to enter into similar bilateral agreements with other foreign countries.

RECOMMENDATION 11

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada negotiate bilateral agreements with other foreign jurisdictions with a view to promoting inter-country training related to "best practices" followed at border crossings to identify and respond to international child abductions.

2. Restriction of International Travel

Ron Reddy, whose daughter was abducted by her mother to Jordan, proposed the establishment of a centralized office responsible for issuing a notarized document signed by a parent and giving the other parent permission to travel with the child or children. The document would include: the name of the person allowed to travel with the child or children; the destination and dates of travel; and a clause indicating that the period of absence from Canada in no way alters the child's habitual or ordinary residence (10 December 1997, p. 20). Such a document could be required before tickets for international travel with a child could be issued. The proposal is in line with the recommendation of Sergeant Oliver that travellers be required to provide documentary proof that both parents agree to the travel of children before a travel agency could issue airline tickets for international travel.

Some witnesses recommended that security and airline staff at Canadian airports should be better trained to identify and respond to a possible child abduction. Brian Grant proposed in his brief that the transportation industry, particularly the airlines, could be encouraged to establish their own version of the "Our Missing Children" Program.

We believe that all of these recommendations merit closer examination.

RECOMMENDATION 12

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Minister of Transport, in consultation with the provinces and territories, officials from "Our Missing Children" Program and the airline industry, review the feasibility of creating a process for verifying documentary proof that both parents have agreed to international travel of children under 16 years of age before airline tickets are issued. We further recommend that the consultation lead to the development of a specialized program for training security and airline staff to identify and respond to possible child abductions.

3. Financial Assistance

Most witnesses highlighted the substantial financial burden placed on searching parents in international abduction cases. Money is often needed for private investigators, foreign lawyers, lodging, food and transportation in the country where the child is being illegally retained, translation services, and airfare. As one witness told us: "the difference between winning and losing is sometimes how much money." The personal stories of parent victims attest to the enormous monetary costs of international child abduction.

Ron Reddy, whose daughter was parentally abducted to Jordan last year, told us:

One of the issues I had with the embassy (Canadian) was that they could have provided a lot of translation services. They did anyway, but they were told not to. I had volumes of documents I had to translate and get notarized by the embassy. They were charging me $10 every time???I was already there (Jordan) for eight months. I'm by no means a millionaire. I spent everything I had. I would have spent more. If I could have taken my kidney out and sold it I would have, to get my daughter back. (10 December 1997, p. 29-30)

Angela Medjed-Cosovic's son was abducted to Yugoslavia by his father eight months ago; she told us:

I have to work everyday. This is my first day off today. I worked six months without any days off Also I have another child I'm baking cookies to survive. I'm doing anything I have now spent $15,000 U.S. My eldest son is feeding me. What more could I expect of a child 16 years old? (10 December 1997, p. 12)

In her brief to the Committee, Nancy White, whose child was illegally retained by his father in Greece, a signatory to the Hague Convention, wrote:

My parents retained lawyers in Greece to support my Application in the Greek provincial court and to defend against the custody action initiated in Greece by my former husband I lived in a hotel in Athens for four months. About $15,000 was spent on translation services alone. In total, my parents spent months of effort and more than $100,000 in this situation. (8 December 1997, p. 2)

Susan Armstrong views the provision of legal and financial assistance for searching parents to be a "fundamental issue":

They should be assigned a lawyer, who could be recommended by the government of the country, and allocated a budget to help bring them back to their children [O]ne mother paid about $20,000. That's standard. We're talking about sums between $20,000 and $50,000. Many parents have had to mortgage their houses three and four times to be able to bring back their children. (3 December 1997, p. 16)

Witnesses recommended that the Government of Canada provide financial assistance to searching parents to cover the costs of travel to a foreign country for court appearances and foreign legal fees. Such assistance could be in the form of a tax deduction or a grant, depending on individual circumstances. We agree that searching parents who are in financial need should be assisted financially by all levels of government in Canada in their efforts to recover their abducted children from abroad.

RECOMMENDATION 13

The Sub-Committee recommends that the federal Minister of Justice undertake discussions with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice to establish a cost-shared fund for expenses related to travel and legal services to assist parents in need whose children have been parentally abducted from Canada and taken across international borders.

4. Sharing of Information and Expertise

In her appearance before us, Marlene Dalley cogently argued that:

It is important to note that until everyone gets "on side" and works together, agencies will continue to have problems searching, locating, recovering, returning and enforcing the law "in the best interests of the child." The right mechanisms are in place but it is a question of making the system work more effectively. (4 February 1998, p. 2)

We agree with the thrust of her argument. To ensure, therefore, that all the key players involved in responding to international child abductions work as efficiently and effectively as possible toward the common goal of promoting and protecting the welfare of children, we propose that the federal government establish a forum in which these players could meet annually.

RECOMMENDATION 14

The Sub-Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, in consultation with the provinces and territories, establish an annual conference to bring together key players in international parental abductions from across the country to share information and expertise, educate and search for solutions to international child abductions. Players would include, but not be limited to the "Our Missing Children" Program, law enforcement, family court judges, the family law sections of the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Qu??bec, non-governmental search agencies, and government officials responsible for the implementation of the Hague Convention.


Request for Government Response

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Committee requests that the Government table a comprehensive response to this Report.

A copy of the relevant Minutes of Proceedings is tabled.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Graham
Chair


APPENDIX A
List of Witnesses

Associations and individuals

            Date

Marlene Dalley

        Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Angelina Mejed-Cosovic

        Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Ron Reddy

        Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Heather Ritchie

        Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Nancy White

        Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

    Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Julian Fantino, Chief of Police, London, On tario
Citizenship and Immigration Canada

      Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Brian Grant. Acting Director General, Enforcement Branch
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Gar Pardy, Consular Operations Wednesday, November 20, 1997
Michael Hutton, Director General, Passport Office Wednesday, February 4, 1998
Department of Justice

        Wednesday, November 20, 1997

Denis Kratchanov, Counsel, Public Law Policy
Sandra Zed Finless, Justice Legal Services, Foreign Affairs
William Corbett, Criminal Law Branch
International Social Service Canada

      Wednesday, December 3, 1997

Agnes Casselman, Executive Director
Missing Children's Registry

        Wednesday, November 26, 1997

Sergeant John Oliver, RCMP
Missing Children's Network

        Wednesday, November 26, 1997

Susan M. Armstrong, Executive Director
Patrick Bergeron, Director of Search
Missing Children Society of Canada

      Wednesday, November 26, 1997

Barbara Snider, Case Director, Eastern Canada
Revenue Canada

          Wednesday, February 4, 1998

Mark Connolly, Director, Program Develop ment, Contraband and Intelligence Ser vices, Customs and Trade Administration Branch


APPENDIX B
List of Submissions

Walter Benstead

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police

Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Marlene Dalley

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Department of Justice

International Social Service Canada

Amy Lewis

Angelina Medjed-Cosovic

Missing Children Registry

Missing Children's Network Canada

Missing Children Society of CanadaRon Reddy Revenue Canada

Heather Ritchie

Nancy White


1 For an overview and summary of research findings on the impact of parental abduction on the abducted child see J. Kiedrowski, C.H.S. Jayewardene, M. Dalley, Parental Abduction of Children: An Overview and Profile of the Abductor, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ottawa, October 1994, p. 22-25.

2 For an overview and summary of research on the impact of parental abduction of children on the searching parent, see Ibid, p. 26-27.

3 Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1996 Annual Report on Canada's Missing Children, Missing Children's Registry, Ottawa, Figure 2, p. 4.

4 Statistics Canada, Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Ottawa, 1996.

5 Data collected for the 3rd Special Commission Meeting held 17-21 March 1997.

6 Other exceptions are found in Articles 13, 13(a) and 20.

7 D. Ngabonziza, "Mediation in International Family Disputes," International Symposium on Globalization of the Rights of the Child: The Role of the Hague Convention, The Hague, 13 September 1997.

8 Ibid., p. 2.

9 L. Silberman, "Hague International Child Abduction Convention: A Progress Report," Law and Contempo rary Problems, Vol. 57, No. 3, summer 1994, p. 217.

10 Cited in A. Dyer and S. Detrick, "Checklist of Issues to be Considered at the Third Meeting of the Special Commission to Review the Operation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of In ternational Child Abduction", Hague Conference on Private International Law, January 1997, p. 10.

11 A. Dyer, "The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction - Towards Global Cooperation: Its Successes and Failures", The International Journal of Children's Rights 1, 1993, p. 287-288.

12 Ibid., p. 289.

13 L. Silberman (1994), p. 266.

14 J. Kiedrowski, C.H.S. Jayewardene, M. Dalley, The Police and Parental Abduction: An Overview for Police Discretion, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ottawa, October 1994, p. 12.

15 Ibid.

16 RCMP, Our Missing Children Investigator's Handbook, RCMP Missing Children's Registry, Ottawa, 1997, p. 4.

17 As part of the "Our Missing Children" initiative, Canada Customs, in cooperation with the Missing Chil dren's Registry, developed Project Return. Through this program, lookouts or alerts are placed at border points to prevent an abductor from taking his or her child out of Canada. Through the International Project Return program, Canada Customs, in cooperation with the World Customs Organization, can have border alerts posted with foreign customs services affiliated with the program. Both programs rely on law enforce ment authorities to initiate the alerts.

18 Cited in J. Kiedrowski, C.H.S. Jayewardene, M. Dalley (1994), p.15.

19 R.Weiler, J.A. Isenegger, J.P. Hornick, J.J. Paetsch, A Police Reference Manual for Cases of Child Abduction and Runaway Youth, Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family and Solicitor General Canada, Ottawa, 1993, p.3.

20 Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, International Child Abduction: A Manual for Parents, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Ottawa, 1996, p. 14.

21 Procedures and methods for the detection and investigation of missing children, including interna tional parental abductions, are outlined in a 1997 handbook for Canadian police, customs and im migration officers; see RCMP, Our Missing Children Investigator's Handbook, RCMP Missing Chil dren's Registry, Ottawa (1997).